Protests Disrupt European Ports

Violent protests outside the European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France focused attention on Port Package II, which would liberalize port operations, and open port services across the European Union (EU) to more competition. Thousands of dock workers reportedly walked off their jobs or staged work slowdowns at ports across the EU over concerns that a proposed port reform bill would lead to job losses, wage reductions and poor safety.

Cargo handling at Belgium’s Port of Antwerp was shut down on Monday, January 16th. Work stoppages also affected the Port of Rotterdam, Swedish ports, and Copenhagen. In France, Marseille shut down and Le Havre, Bordeaux and La Rochelle were affected. Workers at Greece’s 12 ports stopped work. Dutch port workers staged a walkout but claimed not to be on strike. German port workers protested, but operations at the Port of Hamburg were reportedly unaffected.

The United Kingdom’s Georg Jarzembowski offered five points on the proposal:

1) The proposal calls for open market access for new service providers.

2) Transitional rules and leases could continue for up to 45 years.

3) Self handling should be removed, but the proposal contains no risk of social dumping.

4) Market access would mean the most efficient and best priced suppliers would be used for port services.

5) Europe’s businesses need efficient, cost-effective ports.

Commissioner Barrot reiterated that EU ports handle 90% of the Union’s import/export moves. But, despite reassurances that the proposal is needed to produce a more efficient and cost effective port system without sacrificing jobs, the self-handling provision was repeatedly cited as a threat to safety and jobs. The provision would allow ship crews to perform some cargo handling previously performed by stevedores. Despite indications that rule could be dropped, opponents said Port Package II, as it is called, is the same proposal that was defeated in 2003 with the same flaws.

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